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‘Tricky Nikki’ has done it again

Posted: November 11, 2011 1:44 p.m.
Updated: November 14, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Late Thursday, I read the news that the man Gov. Nikki Haley narrowly beat in 2010 -- Camden’s own State Sen. Vincent Sheheen -- was calling for the entire S.C. Board of Health and Environmental Control’s resignation. The board oversees the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).

The story is filled with possibly tainted votes, backroom deals, the Savannah River, the state of Georgia, the town of Jasper, Charleston Harbor, money, politics and even the Panama Canal.

Thursday, the DHEC board reversed itself, granting a water quality permit it had denied Sept. 30 to the state of Georgia to deepen part of the Savannah River.

Let’s go back a bit. According to various online sources, Georgia has tried for more than a decade to deepen 38 miles of the Savannah River from its current 42 feet to 48 feet. It has huge implications.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reported Thursday that deepening the long stretch of river “could boost trade, revenue and jobs,” helping a port at Savannah, Ga.

The same is said of dredging (deepening) Charleston Harbor. South Carolina has considered it essential to deepen the harbor from its current 45 feet to 50 feet.

There’s a reason both Savannah and Charleston -- and, therefore, Georgia and South Carolina -- are trying to get ahead of each other on these projects.  The AJC reports that the Panama Canal is undergoing a major update to “accommodate ever-larger post-Panamax container ships that will begin traversing the Panama Canal” by 2014.

The reason this has all become sticky is because of Jasper County here in South Carolina.

The Savannah River separates not just South Carolina, but Jasper County from Georgia. Both states manage the river along their border both economically and environmentally. In 2007, Gov. Mark Sanford signed an agreement with Georgia’s governor to develop the Jasper Ocean Terminal, with a 15-year timetable for completion. It has the potential to become “the premiere port on the East Coast” according to a S.C. Ports Authority document.

The authority estimates that if the Jasper terminal is built, the two states could enjoy an additional 1 million jobs and $9 billion in tax revenue. That’s on top of already expected gains in taxes and jobs if both the Savannah and Charleston ports are expanded to expected capacities.

Thursday’s DHEC board vote could jeopardize all that.

South Carolina lawmakers, including Sheheen, are accusing Haley of selling out South Carolina.

Keep one very important fact in mind: Haley replaced all but one member of the entire DHEC board in March. The Charleston Post and Courier determined at least two new members, including the new chairman, contributed heavily to Haley’s campaign. None of her choices for the board in March are scientists or environmental activists, the newspaper reported.

What was odd about the appointments is that terms are staggered. While the governor has no direct control over the board, by adding six new members to the seven-member board, critics said Haley was effectively taking control of it.

Right after her election as governor, Haley traveled to Charleston for a rally with Ports Authority workers. She was widely quoted as saying “You now have a governor who does not like lose. Georgia has had their way with us for way too long, and I don’t have the patience to let it happen anymore,” in reference to Georgia’s attempts to deepen the Savannah River.

Last month, she was widely quoted again, but this time saying “we” have to do what’s “right for the region ... to make sure every port is successful.”

Was Haley’s about-face reflected in Thursday’s vote by the DHEC board she picked?

It sure seems like it to Sheheen and Berkeley Republican State Sen. Larry Grooms. In newspapers across the state, Grooms was quoted Friday as saying that while the earlier vote to deny the permit was based on science, the new vote appeared to be the result of political maneuvers.

Grooms said granting Georgia the DHEC permit would ultimately take jobs away from South Carolina.

Sheheen is focusing as much on the environmental consequences as the economic ones. In a statement released late Thursday, Sheheen said the DHEC board’s decision is “a disaster for our state’s environment and economic growth” and called for the entire board’s immediate resignation.

Environmentalists believe the Savannah River project will hurt area vegetation’s ability to oxygenate the river’s water and that wetlands affected by the project are more sensitive than ones South Carolina proposed to protect.

Sheheen also called for an investigatory committee to be formed to determine if the board was improperly influenced. Finally, Sheheen called on Haley to disclose any contributions she’s received from individuals residing in Georgia or from Georgia corporations.

Charleston Democratic State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis is reportedly filing a Freedom of Information Act request for details on Haley’s travel to Georgia and communication with that state’s port authority.

I, for one, join those calls. It’s very obvious to me that “Tricky Nikki’s” done it again.

Indeed, I think she ought to be the one to resign. It’s obvious Haley cares more about making deals to brighten her supposed “national” status than doing what’s right for South Carolina.

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